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End of Japan-South Korea intel pact puts East Asia at risk

Lack of quick coordination with US opens region up to security threats

A member of Japan's Self-Defense Forces walks between American-developed missiles. Three-way cooperation with South Korea and the U.S. has been key to the region's security.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- South Korea's scrapping of its intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan will not only be a blow to bilateral relations but will also undermine the three-way security partnership with the U.S. as East Asia grapples with a rising China and North Korean nuclear weapons.

American forces in South Korea and Japan would operate jointly should a crisis emerge on the Korean Peninsula. So Seoul and Tokyo can continue sharing intelligence through the U.S. even without their bilateral pact, the General Security of Military Information Agreement.

But rapid intelligence-sharing among the three nations cannot happen without the GSOMIA. The accord's demise could dent the U.S. response capability and impact its military's Asia strategy as well.

After Japan imposed restrictions on exports to South Korea, citing security concerns, Seoul decided that it could not justify extension of the pact to its citizens, a South Korean government source said.

The pact's end could not come at a worse time. North Korea has carried out several missile tests recently. It now has U.S. forces in South Korea and Japan within range and is developing better guidance mechanisms to boost accuracy. The disappointment is profound in the U.S., which had urged South Korea to stay in the GSOMIA. Ties between Washington and Seoul could suffer, particularly as the decision came during U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun's stay in the South.

Military aircraft from China and Russia flew by Takeshima, a string of islands controlled and called Dokdo by South Korea, not too long ago. The incident was a reminder that rifts between governments should not affect policies that impact the safety of citizens. South Korea must refrain from actions that create cracks in the security landscape of an increasingly tense region.

"The only person who would welcome a decision that shakes up the partnership between South Korea, the U.S. and Japan is North Korean leader Kim Jong Un," said Yun Duk-min, former chancellor of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy here. "I struggle to understand" the decision, Yun added.

Japan must make every effort to protect regional stability now that its feud with South Korea has spread from the wartime labor issue and export controls to security. And South Korea may be hoping that the U.S. will be forced to intervene. But one thing is certain: the pact's cancellation makes a resolution between Tokyo and Seoul even more elusive.

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